When spring finally arrived, my family and I were on the hunt for Richmond’s best parks, places to picnic and play and simply enjoy fresh air and sunshine. Our original goal was to find the best playgrounds for our kids, LT, eight, and Sara, six, but we quickly discovered that the Richmond area has a bounty of parks that have so much more to offer families than a just slide and tire swings. And even better? All of these are free!
Our first stop was Pole Green Park in Mechanicsville, which is home to Operation Hope, a playground accessible to all children, including those with special needs. The playground features swings, slides, and equipment for crawling and climbing. Since my kids are young, after a picnic lunch, we spent most of our time on the playground, though preteens and teens will also enjoy Pole Green for its skate park. This park also has a small butterfly garden, an equestrian complex, sand volleyball courts, football fields, and plenty of open space perfect for kite flying. A community center on the grounds also hosts classes and club events. Special events include the Hanover Tomato Festival in July and The Children’s Festival in October.
The Family’s Take: “There were lots of slides, and I liked how they were so curvy,” said LT. “I really liked going down the rainbow slides at Pole Green,” added Sara.
Three Lakes Park & Nature Center in Henrico has playgrounds and fields for children to kick a ball, toss a Frisbee, or play tag as well as wooded trails leading to three separate lakes where families can go fishing, or watch the ducks and geese. After a hike around the lakes, my family and I took in the beautiful scenery from the deck of the park’s nature center, which overlooks one of the bodies of water. Three Lakes Park is the park we chose as our favorite, particularly for the nature center. It features an aquarium with fish, snakes, turtles, and frogs and an atrium, where families can learn more about the plants, birds, and trees of Virginia.
The Nature Center is open Tuesday through Sunday, noon until four-thirty this month. Summer hours change up a bit: Tuesday through Friday, ten until four thirty and Saturday and Sunday, noon until four-thirty.
The Family’s Take: “This park was my favorite because it had the most things to do, from the trails to the playground to the nature center,” said my husband, Lou. “I can see us making return trips there.” My daughter liked climbing the animal statues on the playground, especially the turtle, while my son said: “I really liked climbing the rock wall, and seeing all the animals at the nature center. I really liked watching the fish and the turtles.”
Also in Henrico is Deep Run Park & Recreation Center. This one was the largest of the parks we explored, and a little overwhelming for one afternoon. The park has several paved paths along a lake, which are perfect for jogging, bicycling, dog-walking, or strolling with the little ones, plus an exercise trail for fitness buffs. Families can also walk along a nature pavilion and boardwalk in search of wildlife, then take a break and relax in a gazebo overlooking the fountains of the lake. There are two small playgrounds near this section of the park, or you can walk or drive further into the park past the recreation center to a larger playground and picnic shelter area, which was very crowded on the day we visited. Still, my children were impressed with the playgrounds, which included slides, seesaws, monkey bars, tire swings, and forts and playhouses. If your children love to climb the monkey bars as much as my son does, then they’ll enjoy time here. Since Deep Run Park is huge, you should plan to spend the whole day here taking it all in. Bring your walking shoes or bikes and travel from playground to playground. A soccer ball, football, or kite would also be good ideas as there are plenty of fields for running and playing. Special events include KidFest on May 4 and an annual pirates festival in August I’ve heard good things about.
The Family’s Take: “We had a hard time prying the kids from the four-person seesaw,” Lou said. I thought the kids seemed to enjoy the playground equipment here. “I liked climbing the big, long monkey bars,” said LT. “I could really get a good grip and push off and it felt like I was flying.”
Crump Park and Meadow Farm Museum in Glen Allen also has a playground, a trail, and open fields for general frolicking. On the day we visited, my son and daughter watched in Awe as a man few a remote-controlled airplane across the field. Families will particularly enjoy this park, though, for Meadow Farm, which celebrated its three hundredth anniversary last month. While you and your brood are at the farm, once owned by Dr. John Mosby Sheppard, you can browse the exhibit center and gift shop, where historical artifacts are on display, learn more about the blacksmith trade, tour the farmhouse, or watch sheep, horses, and cows grazing in the fields.
The Family’s Take: My son has a train obsession, so he was thrilled to play on the wooden train here, while my daughter was enthralled with the sheep and horses. “I liked looking at all the pretty horses,” she said.
In Midlothian, my family and I explored Robious Landing Park. This is a small park situated along the James River, so if you like being on the water, then this is the park for you. Here, you can launch your kayak, canoe or rowboat, go fishing, or enjoy lunch at a picnic table on the river bank as you take in crew teams practice on the water. This park is peaceful and quiet, perfect for watching the squirrels or listening to the birds chirp and the other sounds of nature. Set back in a wooded area, there is also plenty of shade, so you won’t mind being here on warmer days. You can also hike on a trail right along the river, which we found serene on the day we went.
The Family’s Take: I really enjoyed the calm as we hiked the trail along the river. We didn’t spend much time here, and I think it would be nice to go back again and explore more. “This definitely would be a nice park for a picnic and some time on the water,” Lou said.
Rockwood Park, in northern Chesterfield County, is a larger park perfect for sports enthusiasts, replete with courts for basketball, volleyball, tennis, and pickleball (this is the new Game that combines table tennis, tennis, and badminton), baseball fields, jogging and exercise trails, and an archery range. In addition, Rockwood Park has picnic shelters with horseshoe pits, a nature center, arboretum and gardens, and the Ruff House Dog Park. After my kids had their fill of the playground, we headed down to the nature center, where chipmunks, snakes, turtles, and toads were on display, and then we walked some of the paved trails. The nature center hosts several children’s programs to help little ones develop an appreciation of nature and the park’s wildlife. Near the center, we also spotted a firepit, which would be fun for families to sit by on a spring evening.
The Family’s Take: “I really enjoyed the nature center and the nature trails at this park,” my husband said.
Nearby, Huguenot Park has a larger play area for children called A Playground for Katie and Friends, which my son and daughter migrated to while I wandered along the outdoor exercise course. This fitness trail is designed for people of all ages, sizes, and abilities. Huguenot Park also has an azalea garden, basketball, and tennis courts, and well-maintained soccer fields.
The Family’s Take: Because our kids are in that easy-to-make-new-friends stage, “they Had fun chasing some other kids they met on the playground that day,” Lou said. “This park had a well-designed playground area with lots of space for the kids to run around and play.”
Mary Munford Elementary School in Richmond is where you’ll find Merry Funford Playground, the only pure playground on the list of parks we visited, and my kids’ favorite on our park tour. The school has a fenced-in modern playground with equipment designed for children with special needs, plus a unique wooden playground fortress with bridges and tunnels great for running, climbing, or playing hide and seek. The wooden playground is sectioned off for age-appropriate play: ages two to four; five to nine; and ten and up. While kids live it up, parents can observe from the benches or a small gazebo. There are also tennis and basketball courts and soccer fields for the teens. This is street parking only.
The Family’s Take: “I liked the wooden steps that moved back and forth when we walked on them,” said LT. “The metal slide was super-fast. I also liked the tire swings. It was fun how I was able to look down from above at the people as they were swinging. I scared Sara when she was on it. I yelled ‘Boo!’ and then she looked up and saw me.”